The World's True Hope

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Americans have come to one of the more exciting portions of the quadrennial election cycle in the national conventions of the two main parties. This invariably means non-stop media attention, partisan revelry, messianic symbolism, and the occasional significant speech. Without dwelling on the details, it may suffice to say that Christians are considerably less enthusiastic in 2016 than in prior years. The evangelical hope of cultural power through political engagement has dimmed, both on the left and on the right. American Christians look to the political parties and see little hope for the values and principles we have held dear.

Instead of confronting this situation with dismay, biblical minded Christians will have seen this coming, based on the Scripture's assessment of secular culture and history. Consider the very start of secular culture in Genesis 4. Here, we may deduce precisely the values and priorities that have in time captured American culture. It all started in Genesis 4:17, when Cain "built a city." (It was probably a fairly small walled town, but it was a start for human culture.) Its founding premise was self-will in place of reliance on God's will. There can be little doubt that Cain built his city as protection from the threat of harm, since he expressed this very fear in Genesis 4:14. Yet Cain did not need walls, for God had promised him protection (Gen. 4:15). Moreover, Cain's punishment for slaying his brother Abel was to remain "a wanderer on the earth" (Gen. 4:14). That didn't fit Cain's plan at all, so usurping God's will through self-will, he founded secular culture in his own city.

Notice, too, how Cain names his city. Throughout Genesis, godly people named places for the praise of God's glory. Not Cain! "He called the name of the city after the name of his son, Enoch" (Gen. 4:17). What Cain cared about was the glory of his own achievements and those of his progeny. Likewise, secular culture is all about self-glory, with no concern for the glory of God.

Fast forward few hundred years to the seventh from Adam in the line of Cain, Lamech and his three sons. Here we see how secular culture is fixated on the sensual and worldly, with no concern for godly spirituality. Genesis gives the names of Lamech's two wives (imagine that - a reinvention of marriage!) and his daughter. Without giving the details, they all refer to the beauty and sex appeal of the women. How we have evolved since then! Then we consider the staggering achievements of Lamech's sons, who between them pioneer economics, the arts, and science (Gen. 4:20-22). These are good things in and of themselves, just as American culture is extraordinarily impressive in its worldly achievements. Noticeably absent, however, is worship and the knowledge of God. If Lamech founded a university, it would have impressive colleges of business, arts, and science, but alas no school of divinity.

So here was the founding of secular culture, based on the brilliant talents of the earliest humans. It is impressive and forward moving! But it is also self-willed, self-glorying, and sensual/secular. Sound familiar? Were we expecting something different due to American exceptionalism? The biblical fact is that once the influence of God's Word has receded from public life, there is no other possible trend for fallen human society. To cap it off, Lamech determines to use these cultural achievements not for civic refinement but to cement a tradition of rivalry and war (see Lamech's song, Gen. 4:23-24, undoubtedly performed in gangsta rap.)

As the Democratic and Republican conventions meet this month prior to squaring off in the fall, a biblical analysis of them is bound to see far more in common than in distinction. To be sure, there are meaningful differences in the two parties and I would never say they don't matter. But as twin secular movements, they are bound to draw from the playbook of Cain and his offspring. Thus, both conventions will give no place for God's Word, will glory in men, women, and earthly prowess, will highlight the fleshly desire for pleasure and prosperity, and both will take up the combative militancy of Lamech: "I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me" (Gen. 4:23). To be fair, much of this is what political parties are supposed to do: they need to care about the economy, promote their own candidates, and sharpen swords against enemies, even if their primary enemies are sadly one another. But for the moral and cultural concerns of the followers of Christ, the likelihood of hope emerging from a now strictly secular process was never going to be great.

So where are Christians to look in seeking for hope in 2016? This answer is given in the last two verses of Genesis 4, which recount the line of the godly through Adam and Eve, Seth, and then Enosh. Here is the great statement that should fuel the imagination of Christians in America today: "At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord" (Gen. 4:26). Here we see the church in its infancy: in worship, prayer, witness, and faith in Jesus Christ.

Let me work this out briefly. Notice, for the first time in biblical history that there is public gathered worship of the people of God. While Cain and his line built their city, Seth and his family made of the church their spiritual city. Calling on the name of the Lord means that they worshiped according to God's self-revelation. They put their focus upwards towards God and prayed publicly. (Is there any greater indictment of evangelicals amidst the cultural ruin of our time that we still have so few prayer meetings?) They bore testimony to God and his saving promise (notice in verse 25 that Eve named Seth as the new "offspring" to replace Abel - i.e., she was trusting in the promise of the Savior through her line - Gen. 3:15). Their hope was in the Savior to come and they bore testimony to him before the world.

The world before the flood is a microcosm of all history. Genesis 4 details stunning earthly achievements and growing power in Cain's secular line. The church's spiritual presence seems so small in comparison. But Adam's line through Seth kept meeting, praying, and proclaiming the promised Savior. While Lamech's sons pioneered arts and industry, Seth's sons promoted worship according to God's Word. Throughout those long centuries, God preserved and blessed his godly people. In time, God's judgement fell on the wickedness of Cain's culture and by Genesis 6 all that was left in the world was the church.

What is the hope to which Christians should be looking in this world? Our hope is not in the secular city, which in time always reverts to the Cainite mean. Our hope is in God, on whom we call, to whom we pray, to whom we offer worship, and for whom we proclaim the saving work he has done and is doing through his Son, Jesus. This means that the world's true hope is in the faithful Christian church. So if you find yourself frustrated watching CNN or FOX News, perhaps you might turn off the television and gather for family worship. While I would never want to discourage Christians from legitimate callings in the public arena, you will find true hope by investing in your church. If there is to be a Christian hope for America in our time it will be because what was said of the line of Seth is said of us: they "began to call upon the name of the Lord." And let us not forget the gospel promise that goes alongside: "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Rom. 10:13). There is the true and only hope for the world in 2016. Centered on this hope, Christians need not be dismayed after all.

 
Posted July 19, 2016 @ 12:22 PM by Richard D. Phillips


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